Maria Tallchief, brilliant 20th century ballerina, has died

Maria Tallchief, stunning American ballerina who danced to the choreography of Balanchine, Bronislava Nijinska, and Agnes de Mille, has died.

Ms. Tallchief was born of an Osage father and Scottish-Irish mother who, for a time, raised their family on a reservation in Oklahoma that saw overnight wealth when oil was discovered. When Maria was eight, they moved to Los Angeles where Tallchief began dance lessons with Ernest Belcher. Four years later, Bronislava Nijinska, a famed Polishchoreographer, took over.

In 1942, Tallchief joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where George Balanchine cultivated a personal and professional relationship with the young dancer. They married in 1946.

Eager to be out on his own, Balanchine formed a dance company (with a patron of the arts, Lincoln Kirstein) which became the famed City Ballet in 1948. When Tallchief's contract expired with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (she returned to them in 1954, four years after her divorce from Ballanchine), she became one of City Ballet's biggest stars.

Her role in Stravinsky's Firebird in 1949 launched her celebrity, fame which was enhanced by roles as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker (the Sugar Plum Fairy).

Ms. Tallchief hung up her toes shoes in 1966, but stayed active the ballet world, notably as the artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet and as founder of the Lyric Opera's ballet school. She wrote of her fascinating life in her memoir, Maria Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina (1997).

Her daughter, Elise Paschen, with her third husband, Henry Paschen, is a renowned poet.

Ms. Tallchief, who was 88, died in Chicago.

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